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Get To Know The Town Of Norwell

Norwell can't be understood completely until you know a little about her history. A glimpse at the town seal tells you about the importance of boat building. The genesis of boat building was purely economic. In the early seventeenth century, as the British Navy began building more ships and the demand for merchant vessels increased, wood became scarce in Britain. The cost to build a ship in New England was half the cost of building one in England. Trees that had grown unhindered for 150 centuries covered the countryside: the forest canopy was 200 feet throughout most of the northeast woodlands. Such strong, stout pine and oak was there for the taking, soon a thriving boat building business sprung up along the banks of the North River to take advantage of this "inexhaustible" supply source.

Most of the boats that were built here were small working coastal boats, as the North River shipyards didn't have the depth required for larger boats. But the Columbia, America's first ship to circumnavigate the globe, and after which the mighty Columbia River is named, was built on the North River! The largest ship ever built on the North River was built by William Delano at the Wanton Shipyard and was called the Mount Vernon.
Norwell was originally settled in about 1628. In 1637 Cornet Robert Stetson was granted a tract of land about four miles along the North River. This area was part of Old Scituate (incorporated in 1636, and including all of Norwell, most of Hanover, and portions of present day Cohasset, Marshfield, Pembroke, and Hanson).

With little tillable land, early settlers were quick to take advantage of river marsh grass for cattle forage. Marsh grass was hauled upriver from otherwise inaccessible marshes on large flat-bottomed boats, called Gundalows, which were capable of hauling from 3 to 8 tons of salt hay up river. Haying on the lower river ended after the Portland Gale of 1898, a monstrous November hurricane which moved the mouth of the North River about a mile north of its old mouth, to share the mouth with the South River, as it does today.

1849 Norwell split from Scituate and became known as South Scituate. In 1888, it changed its name to Norwell, after Henry Norwell, a wealthy Boston merchant and benefactor to the small rural town.

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Updated: 12th December, 2018 4:42 PM.